The fellow I interviewed was chatty; the topic, fascinating. The problem? Cramming as much of that interesting conversation into just 300 words.
My clients often have a specific number of words they need to fit a certain space. Magazine and newspaper editors also assign a certain number of words and may not work with you again if you don’t meet their requirements.
So while you’re spinning straw into gold (as I call turning raw notes into interesting reading), here are some tips for cutting words to meet your assigned word count:
- Write first, edit later. Write the detail you think needs to be included, then check your word count and edit as necessary. I sometimes check partway through the first draft to gauge how much detail I can include.
- Ditch most adjectives and adverbs, and use a stronger noun or verb instead. “He sat dejectedly” becomes “He slumped.”
- Eliminate prepositions, says Barbara Diggs, The Expat Freelancer. You can easily get rid of words like “of,” “in” and “at.” For example, “She preferred to stay at home.”
- Use contractions. “He’s” instead of “He is” saves a word, plus it sounds warmer.
- Remove weak filler words, like “very,” “really” and “the fact that,” says BitesizeBio’s Kristin Harper.
- Look for places you have said the same thing in different ways. Only keep the best one.
- Get rid of “that.” It’s “sometimes so superfluous that it can easily be gotten rid of,” says Devyani Borade on Writing-World.com.
- Use the active voice rather than the passive voice. “The leader is spotlighting the issue” rather than “The issue is being spotlighted by the leader.”
- Eliminate redundant words and passages, says freelance writer Jesse Hines. He gives examples like “The armed gunman” and “Past history.”
- Suggest a sidebar — a short article beside the main one that includes additional details that are interesting but not essential to the story. For a piece for Niagara Escarpment Views magazine about community gardens, I included a sidebar for the curious about the typical items grown.
- If the article includes a photo, use the caption to include interesting information edited out in #1.
What other tips do you have for trimming (or slashing!) a lengthy article? Please share in the comments.
Image: Scissors from Pixabay.
I agree with your points. Sidebars are great for extra detail that takes up a lot of space in the main story, plus readers like them. Captions that just repeat what’s in the story are boring. Use that space to emphasize or add info. I disagree that editors won’t work with you again if you’re too wordy. I have had to “train” some writers to believe me when I say 1,000 words. If they send 1,100, I let them cut the piece back or I will. But it will come in on target. It has to, for layout & to give room for photos. One other thing: I prefer pullquotes that aren’t exact repetitions of what’s in the story, but give a little twist or new info. Readers like them too.
Thanks for commenting, Gloria. You are perhaps more patient than some editors I have heard of!
Patience doesn’t come easily to me, but it’s not every writer who has the interest/knowledge to write for NEV, so it’s worth my time to get our writers to believe my word counts. Most professionals have no problem. What does make me drop a writer is being unreliable about facts & being reluctant to Google them. We can’t afford to get stuff wrong. I have to trust writers to do solid work.
I’m writing my first thriller. Lots of highs and lows. Liked your tips and the comments.
Thanks! Good luck with your thriller.